iving ??1—} the living wisdom of howard thurman howard thurman with vincent harding, michael...
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Howard Thurman with Vincent Harding,
Michael Bernard Beckwith, Alice Walker,
A visionary for our time
Produced by Liza J. Rankow
Content selected and edited by Vincent G. Harding; Liza J. Rankow; Luther E. Smith, Jr.; and Olive Thurman Wong
Original music composed and recorded by Jacqueline B. Hairston jbhproductions.com
Sounds True, Inc., Boulder, CO 80306
Published 2010Printed in the United States of America
All rights reserved. No part of these liner notes may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission from the authors and publisher.
When I consider the magnificent richness of the human relationships that have filled my life with gifts of hope, loving guidance, and deep inspiration, I can never find adequate thanks for the powerful presence of Howard Thurman. And because this son of Africas people in America was so great a gift to me, I am very happy to share him with you in this introductory selection of audio recordings from his vast storehouse of life-giving wisdom. I am convinced that this man, who died almost 30 years ago, is a voice that our nation needs to hear now, a spirit whom we need to engage now, as we struggle to understand ourselves as a peopleour identity, our purpose, and the meaning of our marvelous diversity. I think that we need him now because we are still trying to understand our own role as membersloving, caring, sharing membersof the human community.
It was as a graduate student at the University of Chicago in the 1950s that I first met Thurman on the pages of Jesus and the Disinherited, his classic message of hope, challenge, and encouragement to those (as he put it) who stand at a moment in human history with their backs against the wall. But beyond the words of the book, he entered my life as a living being in the difficult days after the assassination of his
beloved Martin Luther King, Jr., as I worked in Atlanta with my friend and sister Coretta Scott King to establish the King Memorial Center. From that point until the end of his lifeand probably even beyond Thurman became my surrogate father, nurturing me, shepherding me, at many times carrying me through very difficult days in my own life. And I remember with great joy the many times he invited me to join him on his long walks through the hilly streets of San Francisco. I also recall how readily and lovingly he encouraged my dear wife, Rosemarie, and me to relax like family in the home he shared in that city with his gifted spouse and powerful coworker, Sue Bailey Thurman.
Over the years of our relationship it became increasingly clear to me why many people found Howard Thurman so hard to categorize. For instance, early in his public life a young freedom-loving African American social activist complained publicly that We thought we had found our Moses in Thurman, but he turned out to be not Moses, but a mystic! What the young man didnt know was that Thurman was deeply involved in the ongoing quest for freedom and justice, but saw his role not on the front lines of marches and demonstrations. Instead he sought to offer hope, clarification, and encouragement to those who were preparing to set out on the marches. To sit with them and consider carefully what they were seeking and why, and how they might best go about it. And when they returned, after either victory or defeat or both, Thurman knew they needed someone like him to meet them,
to listen, and to guide. It was his role to continue urging that they, that we, recognize the need to constantly expand our dreamsand to be assured that no defeat of our movement toward a manifestation of universal oneness can ever be permanent, because that oneness was the will of the Divine for us all.
Because Martin Luther King, Jr., was inspired and challenged by Thurmans search for truth, it is said that King carried Jesus and the Disinherited in his briefcase on the many thousands of miles he journeyed during the years of the Freedom Movement. James Farmer, C. T. Vivian, Marian Wright Edelman, Samuel DeWitt Proctor, James Lawson, and many other well-known and little-known movement activists were similarly influenced by Thurmans thought and counsel. Most recently, President Barack Obama acknowledged the importance of Thurmans teachings for his own life. I trust that connection will deepen and endure.
And now I invite you to listen to Thurman as he opens his heart to us in these reflections, these wrestlings with truth. Hear him, feel him, as he encourages us to move with him on the inward journey, to sit quietly andas he puts itto see ourselves go by. In relatively brief meditations, in longer sermons, in places of brooding reflection, or those where his playful humor is on display, we find him often approaching us with questions. Not directives. Not speeches. But questions like: Who are you, really? What are you for? Whats the fundamental thing
that you are after in your life? Questions all gently, firmly urging us to explore ourselves, to ask ourselves about ourselves. For he knew that such searching for self-knowledge was crucial to every other search in which we could possibly engage. He knew that such searching was essential to building the human community.
It was Thurman who constantly reminded us, and reminds us still, as he put it, that the things that are true in religion are not true because they are in religion, but rather theyre in religion because they are true.So it is understandable that such a teacher, such a guide to the deep waters that undergird all religious experience, could move comfortably among Baptists and Buddhists, could share silence and fellowship with Quakers, Jews, Muslims, and those who identify themselves solely as offspring of the Divine Creator or children of Mother Earth.
The recordings you will hear span a quarter centuryfrom the early 1950s to the late 1970s. Each of the six sessions is introduced by some-one whose life has been profoundly touched by Howard Thurman. Alice Walker, Edward Kaplan, Luther Smith, Liza Rankow, Michael Beckwith, and I each speak from our own relationship with Thurman to provide a bridge of context and personal connection, especially for those of you who may be meeting him for the first time through this collection.
Thurman wasand this was a deep part of his spiritualitya seeker. He was never satisfied with the truth that he had achieved, knowing
always that there was more to come and that he must never think that he had found it all. His faith was not a door that closed in on him as something to be kept, protected, and guarded. Rather it was a great portal that opened out into the spirit, faith, dreams, and seekings of humankind. Thurman urges us always to see our magnificent possibilities, our amazing capacities, not only to dream great dreams but to realize that those dreams will not rest until they incarnate themselves in usin each of us, in all of us, for all of us. Let us listen.
Vincent G. Harding
Howard tHurman (18991981)A visionary religious leader and thinker, Howard Thurman has been called a teacher of teachers, a preacher of preachers, an activator of activists, and a mover of movers. Thurmans philosophical and pastoral contributions were formative to the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, as
was his influence on Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others involved in the struggle for freedom and social justice. Ebony magazine named Dr. Thurman among the 50 most important figures in African American history, and Life magazine hailed him as one of the greatest preachers in the nation. Thurman was a pioneer in developing interracial, intercultural, interfaith communities of worship, and his liberating spiritualityas Vincent Harding has termed itgrew out of an organic mysticism that engaged the world, rather
than withdrawing from it.Young Howard Thurman (circa 1919)
Howard Washington Thurman was born on November 18, 1899, and grew up among the working poor of racially divided Daytona, Florida. His maternal grandmother, Nancy Ambrose, exerted a particularly formative and lasting influence on Thurmans theological and intellec-tual development. Born into slavery, she recognized the liberative power of education and instilled in her grandson a lifelong commitment to learning and academic excellence. In a time and place where even the opportunity for a high school educa-tion was rare for African Americans, Thurman went on to graduate from Morehouse College (1923) and Rochester Theological Seminary (1926), in both cases as class valedictorian. He was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1925.
Thurmans first pastorate was a small, mostly Black community church in Oberlin, Ohio, where he also undertook postgraduate coursework at the Oberlin Graduate School of Theology. He was a leader and popular speaker in the YMCA
Howard and Sue Bailey Thurman in India (circa 1935-1936)
and Student Christian Movement, and was active in the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), a national interracial pacifist organization. In early 1929, Thurman spent six months in directed study with Rufus Jonesthe Quaker scholar, mystic, and activistbefore returning to Atlanta as